Thursday, June 09, 2011

Motivations and Reasons for Belief

The philosopher, writer and blogger, Mike Austin, has some important thoughts on belief in God. Particularly in the differences between motivations to believe God exists and reasons to believe God exists. He writes:

In my own case, I am partly motivated to believe that God exists and seek to live life as a follower of Christ because it works. I honestly believe that I flourish, my family flourishes, and I have a part in helping my community flourish as I seek to live out my faith in daily life. But there are many ways of life that work for individuals to one degree or another. I am also motivated to believe because I think that good reasons for such belief are available. The upshot is that while the possibilities concerning the afterlife can motivate people to believe in God, we should also consider what reasons can be given for and against the truth of such belief. From my own experience, when difficulties come, it is not enough to say "Belief works for me." Rather, I want all of my beliefs, including those about the supernatural, to be true. That, at least, is what I seek.

He is right that the distinction is important for both believers and non-believers to understand. While the accusation is sometimes made that Christians may believe for “fire insurance” – that they will simply avoid hell or wind up in heaven – that should not be mistaken for reasons why someone may believe. And while it can be the case that practicality or eternal consequences can be motivators for belief, they will not last long without a strong foundation of reasons to believe.

So, two things present themselves to me. First, the skeptic should carefully weigh their attacks on faith and aim at reasons and not motivations. And second, the believer ought to buttress their motivations for belief with good, solid reasons.


Julie P. said...

Hi Phil. I just stumbled upon your blog, searching for ways to reconcile my Christian faith (ideological) with my appeal to Pragmatism on the political stage. Working on this still...

In reading this post, I understand your point--the difference between motivations and reasons and why Christians ought to have some footing in apologetics. So I don't mean to derail the conversation here, but I read this post and found myself entirely resistant to Austin's "it works for me" motivations. I was surprised by it. Not sure about his background but a profession of this kind seems to smack of "prosperity gospel." What do you think about "gospels" of this sort (e.g., Joel Osteen)? I'm only a lay(wo)man, but I think even vaguely intimating that Christianity is a means prosperity or "flourishing" at all can be misleading to a congregation.

Phil Steiger said...


Thanks for the comments, and sorry for the delay in getting back with you. I know Mike a little bit, and I would be surprised if he is a "prosperity" gospel type. From my reading, the "works for me" issue is a consequence of the truth of Christianity, not the primary reason for believing in it.

While some preach a gospel of God "doing stuff" for people, that is a bad approach to God and belief in the truth in general.

But, rightly understood, Christianity "works." If it is true, which I believe it is, and if a follower of Christ submits themselves to it, they will find their lives in alignment with God's will and life. The misunderstanding here is that this means financial prosperity. The right understanding means something like the growth of the Christ-like virtues in our lives.

Thanks for the thoughts!

John Payne said...

would you care to comment on the issue of disparity between Christ-like virtue and socially acceptable ethics?

J. Payne

Phil Steiger said...


I guess there are several ways we could go with that. Socially acceptable ethics will always be in tension with Christ-like virtues because we live in a fallen world where humans construct “socially acceptable” walls around their vices. The inevitable result will be conflict – maybe even continual conflict on at least some level between the maturing disciple of Christ and the rest of the world.

Maybe the question you are asking is about how Christians ought to behave publicly when we have these virtues and divine commands that we don’t always expect the world to live up to (e.g., can a Christian vote for the death penalty, etc.). And here I don’t know that there is a really clean answer.

I’ll have to think some of that through a bit more.